Category: Eat. Drink. Preserve.
August 26, 2016
We’ve got a lot of delicious, crispy, dried apples in the pantry to enjoy this fall and winter. How they got to this ideal snap-crisp state was a happy accident that’ll be easy for you to repeat, on purpose.
My new neighbor gave us several pounds of apples from her orchard, which I put into our dehydrator intentionally. I cored and sliced the apples about 1/4″ thick, spread them in single layers on the drying sheets, set the machine to 135F for fruit, checked the relative humidity (about 50%), and anticipated the slices would be leathery and ready to store in about 9-12 hours.
What I didn’t count on was eating a bad oyster a few hours later.
August 19, 2016
This summer we’ll be preserving fresh food not harvested from our garden. Some years you just can’t rely on your own farm — large or small — to produce the foods you want to freeze, can or dry for the long winter ahead. We’re having one of those years.
It isn’t that our crops failed. Rather, we just didn’t plant much in the way of a seasonal veggie garden. We were just too busy preparing our home for sale, buying a new home, packing, moving, repairing, unpacking & all that jazz — all in the midst of the annual seeding, sowing and early harvesting window. So here we are in August with just a few potted peppers and tomatoes, a single container with cucumbers, several potted herbs and a new field filled with enough blackberries to take over the world and feed an army.
Fortunately, living in farm country means we have access to no-spray, locally grown, often organic (or at least transitional) foods, picked fresh from small farms. In fact, we’re pretty much eating a 20-mile diet comprised of locally grown produce, fish, grass-fed meats, dairy, and even eggs from our neighbor across the field next door.
But, about the only thing we’ll be preserving from our own garden this year is those blackberries!
If your garden failed you or you just didn’t get around to planting it, now’s the time to discuss bulk buys with your favorite local farmers. If you don’t live in farm country like we do, visit your farmer’s market and ask about placing preserving orders. Many farmers will be happy to discount bulk buys, and if they offer better prices on their seconds, don’t snub the opportunity. Just get those very ripe goodies home and into your belly, canner, dehydrator or freezer right away.
Soon enough it’ll be planting time again, and it’s never too early to begin planning your future garden. Perhaps this time next year we’ll be discussing our new deer-proofed vegetable garden successes (or failures) or our forthcoming chicken coop or the perennial food forest we hope to install sooner rather than later. But, for now, I just need to figure out where I put the boxes with my dehydrator and canning supplies!
August 05, 2016
Our new property has a lot of blackberry weeds. Local old-timers tell us about playing here, not many decades ago, when it was all forest (that was later overtaken by blackberries). Today only a relatively small section of our land is still forested, and the forest is still full of blackberry brambles — tough, prickly-painful weeds to eradicate.
Fortunately, picking loads of summer-ripe berries is a delicious preemptive weeding method. Each berry we keep out of the mouths of birds (that poop plantable seeds) or keep from falling directly to the earth (where they sprout anew) is a win. Plus, we get an abundant harvest of yummy berries. Don’t miss one of our favorite recipes below!
Other ways we’re keeping these voracious blackberry weeds at bay right now:
Taking a machete to green shoots traveling overhead and along the ground. If we don’t whack these fast growing shoots back, they will root into the earth soon and help the weeds cover more ground.
We’re also cutting out the berry clusters that only have hard, pithy fruit still attached. Once the best berries are picked and summer weather dries out, the remaining clusters on older fruiting stems will ripen, but they’ll never be very tasty. Yet, they will have the capacity to form new plants.
Staying on top of pulling volunteers wherever they appear on our property is also key. If you have fruiting blackberries, birds will poop seeds for you, thereby planting more brambles everywhere. Don’t ignore them! Young shoots are easy to pull; you may not even need gloves against those tiny prickles and roots.
These summer efforts won’t eradicate our briar patch, but we really don’t want to completely eradicate them. We like the fruit, and the wildlife that lives in this area does too — from the bees that pollinate the flowers to the birds, deer, bunnies and other unknown critters that call this area home. Come winter, we will go hard on the vines with our machetes, but just enough to keep this invasive plant in check.
What to do with your preemptive weeding berry harvest:
We’ve made blackberry sauce, blackberry chicken, blackberry margaritas, blackberry mint juleps and several reduced sugar blackberry cobblers. And, since we’re hauling in about three to six pounds of berries everyday, we’re freezing them by the gallon to make blackberry jelly come autumn. Right now, it’s the cobbler we love the most!
Although I endeavor to do a lot of no-sugar, no-grain baking, I’m a fool for a traditional blackberry cobbler — made with wheat flour, butter and a bit of sugar. That being said, I hate a fruit dessert so over-sugared that the natural flavor of the fruit itself is lost. So, I’ve refined my recipe to call for about a cup and half less sugar than most cobbler recipes often suggest is necessary. And, as is traditional with cobblers, there’s no need to roll out the crust like you would for a pie. Easy-peasy!
Let me know what you think after you make one of your own.
Preemptive Weeding Blackberry Cobbler Print
- 4-6 cups fresh blackberries, rinsed & picked over for bugs & prickles
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 3/4 cup flour, sifted
- 1/4 cup coconut sugar (or regular granulated sugar)
- dash of sea salt
- 6 tablespoons melted & cooled unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 350F. Place baking rack in middle of oven. Place another rack below it, and put a lined cookie sheet on the lower rack to catch any bubbling over messes.
Fill a deep 8-9″ pie dish about 3/4 of the way full with berries. Sprinkle with cinnamon and toss very gently. Set aside.
Place sifted flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Whisk together with a fork. Pour in butter and blend quickly. It will be very buttery and slightly crumbly. Don’t overwork it or you may have a tough crust.
Scoop tablespoon sized clumps of dough into your palm and flatten slightly. Place each clump into an overlapping layer to cover the berries. If you have some extra dough, crumble it over the top. Don’t expect a pie-perfect look! The cobbled-together look is what gives cobbler it name.
Place filled pie plate onto the middle rack of the oven & be sure the cookie sheet is positioned below it to catch anything that bubbles over.
Bake 40-50 minutes or until berries are bubbly and the crust is a golden brown.
Remove from oven and allow to cool for at least 15-30 minutes so the liquids gel a bit and to keep your mouth from getting burned. (Since I don’t call for a thickener, expect lots of succulent juice.)
Serve warm or cold with a dollop of vanilla ice cream.
December 11, 2015
Our herbal aromatherapy recipes blend garden-fresh herbs, flowers & spices to perfume your home and add moisture to our dry, winter homes. Plus, they’re easy to DIY into gifts as well.
Try making these cute bags of these deliciously scented aromatherapy herb blends to give your loved ones. They make fantastic hostess gifts and wonderful stocking stuffers. Following are several simple, delicious, brewable combos to make in our popular printable format with gift-wrapping tips too.
(Qualifying purchases made through affiliate &/or sponsored links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors.)
Bundle these with homemade soaps from our simple, no-lye recipes, and you’ve got a complete gift for anyone!
(Updated December 2015. Original post follows at the end.)Herbal Aromatherapy & Spice Blends for Stove Top Humidifiers Print
Directions for preparing & making sachets & using these blends follows the list of blends.
Christmas Spice Blend
1 T whole cloves
1 tangerine, orange or other citrus peel
1-2 cinnamon sticks
1 slice fresh or candied ginger
Three Garden Herb Blends
Astringent & Calming Blend
1-2 sprigs fresh Rosemary (even if it is frozen in the garden)
2-3 Tablespoons dried lavender buds (or garden stem/flower cuttings)
tangerine or orange peel
1-2 dried lemon verbena stem
Calming & Clarifying Blend
2-3 Tablespoons dried lavender buds (or garden stem/flower cuttings)
1-2 sprigs eucalyptus (optional)
small handful dried rose petals or buds (about 3-4 Tablespoons)
Savory Home-cooking Blend
1-2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1-2 sprigs fresh sage
several sprigs of thyme (lemon or lime thyme is especially great!)
To use on the stove top:
Add one of the above combos (in a sachet or loose) to a medium size sauce pan or dedicated kettle filled (to a couple of inches below the top-line) with water. Place on warm wood stove-top (according to manufacturer’s guidelines) or cook-top. If on a cooktop, bring the water just to boiling and then turn down to a low simmer, or boil a little higher to release more moisture into the air faster. Add additional water as needed; don’t let it dry out. Occasionally, as fragrance diminishes, strain out the spices, cuttings and fruit peels, add them to your compost and start over with fresh water in a cleaned pan/kettle with fresh spice or herb blends. Don’t let the ingredients stand and get moldy!
Tips for creating gift sachets:
When creating gift blends, be sure to use dried ingredients. Fresh herbs, flowers and fruit is likely to rot before you’re able to give your gifts. And, we use food-grade cheese cloth for our bundles since we’re sure this won’t damage kettles and pots on the stove. Pretty, dyed fabrics might look nice, but who knows what they’ll do in a pot of boiling water!
Original post follows. (more…)
November 13, 2015
Our dandelion tea recipe makes great use of those hard-won dandelions dug fresh from your garden. Roasting the roots brings out a nutty sweetness that mellows the root’s bitterness. It makes a dandy cuppa to replace your afternoon tea or even your morning coffee – sans caffeine.Roasted Dandelion Tea Recipe Print
Several large dandelion roots, ideally harvested in late summer to fall (but anytime you can get a good sized root up, save it and use it)
Scrub your dandelion roots until completely clean and free of all dirt and grit. Trim off any hairy little bits or anything squishy, rotten or otherwise damaged or questionable. If you’re having trouble getting your roots completely clean, you can use a vegetable peeler to remove the toughest outer layer.
(If you wish, skip the following step and begin roasting your roots right away.)
To Dry Your Roots: Chop roots into small pieces no larger than a couple of stacked nickles. Spread in a thin layer on a dehydrator tray. Insert into dehydrator set to 125°F for about an hour. After an hour, check to see if the root bits are completely dried. If not, continue drying in one hour increments until the pieces are hard and woody.
Once your dandelion harvest has been dried, you can place it in an airtight jar and store it until you are ready to roast for tea.
To Roast Your Tea: Preheat oven to 325°F. Spread dried or fresh roots in a single layer on a baking sheet. Insert into oven and roast for about 20 minutes, stirring half way through roasting. If you skipped dehydrating your roots, you may need to roast your roots for up to an hour, stirring every 10 minutes until the roots are both dried and slightly browned.
At this point, your roasted roots are ready to steep in hot water for tea. About 1/2 teaspoon to 1 cup boiling water should suffice, but adjust to taste!
Grinding Your Brew: If you prefer a powdered form that dissolves somewhat like coffee, place your roasted root bits into a dry grinder pitcher of a high powered blender. Turn it on variable/low and begin pulverizing your roasted pieces into a dust, increasing power as needed until all that remains is a pale brown dust without grit.
For a Darker Roast: If you like your dandelion tea with a lot of roasted flavor, pour your dust into a preheated cast iron skillet. Stir it gently over low heat until it transforms from a pale brown to a nutty brown. Be very careful to keep the heat low and stir frequently so your hard-won dandelion tea recipe doesn’t turn into burnt dust.
To Make the Perfect Dandy Cuppa: Fill a kettle with fresh water and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, add 1/2-1 teaspoon roasted dandelion root to your tea infuser. Pour boiling water over your dandelion root and allow it to infuse for about 3 minutes, or longer if you like a lot of flavor. (If you created powdered tea, just put it in your cup, pour water over it, stir.)
Add Some Flavor: If your cuppa dandelion tea is just a bit too bitter, try stirring in a teaspoon of honey, barley malt or pour in some coconut milk for creamy richness.